(No) Pets on the Monocacy

Painted Turtles, big and small American Toads, baby crayfish, Eastern Snapping Turtles: if my boys can see them, they can get their hands on them. So can I, of course, but most of the time I’m pleading for their release, because, one, we don’t need another pet and, two, wild things need to live in the wild. I was acquisitive of animals as a child, too, which is why I know that healthy wild things seldom thrive once put in a tank or a cage. The frogs and toads get away only to be found months later petrified at the back of a closet. The turtles eat your hamburger but look so morose that eventually you just have to put them back where you found them. And the crayfish? Either something in the fish tank eats them, or they eat something in the fish tank. I’m happy to say that I never took a Snapping Turtle home. My brothers were once attacked by one in a lily pond, and that settled the issue.

A few weeks ago, my boys caught a baby rabbit that was living in one of my flower beds. It was small, clearly just out of the nest, and rather stupid about just allowing itself to be handled. (Well, maybe more naive than stupid). I had the boys release it across the street, but it reappeared in the backyard a short time later, and, without telling me, my oldest put it in the cage with his two friendly pet rats, Sugar and Anastasia. Thrilled to see the maiden rats treat the rabbit as if it was their own long lost child, my son called me up from the garage, which I was cleaning, to his room to see a “surprise.” This is what I found:

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Yes, indeed, that is Anastasia grooming the rabbit. As you can imagine, it was very difficult to convince the boys that this situation, while adorable, was not actually good for the health of any of the animals involved. In the end, however, it wasn’t the boys that gave me trouble. They agreed to release the baby rabbit across the street again, but the baby rabbit had other ideas. Within minutes of being let go, it hopped right into the garage, where I was still cleaning, and up to the back door.

“Oh my God,” my husband said, “did it imprint on us?”

“I guess it liked being mothered,” I replied.

I am pleased to say that, no, despite the baby rabbit’s apparent desires, we don’t presently have a rabbit living with our rats.  It took several more tries, but it finally stayed away when we made sure that it noticed that we have two dogs and a cat living in our house in addition to our two affectionate rodents. It’s now living underneath a hedge two houses away.  In the wild.

The Wild Life, Part 2

There is a dirt path off of a paved trail that leads to a sort of overlook of the Monocacy River.  There, one can simply stand and watch the murky river wend its way toward the Monocacy Boulevard Bridge, or one can skid down a steep and often muddy trail toward a makeshift footbridge that provides access to the water. Usually this is a popular spot for fishermen, but this morning I encountered two painted turtles instead. As I generally only see them sunning themselves on logs from a distance, I was surprised to find them in the shade on a rocky path.  I assume that they forgot to move with the sun, which, like the water, was only a few feet away.  When I moved off with my two unimpressed dogs, the smaller one peeked out of its shell and gradually scrabbled toward the water.  The larger one, which remained calm throughout the ordeal, apparently wanted another chance at the snooze button.

The good news for these river-dwellers is that I’ve been encountering far less trash.  The visible sort, at least. The cleanliness of the water, subjected for miles to agricultural runoff and the vagaries of development, is another matter entirely.  For those who are interested, I have been gathering links to information about the river’s history and conservation on my page The Monocacy River.